I was sitting at a table in a mall sipping a lemonade, mind wandering, when the conversation at the table next to me caught my attention.
“Look at how that girl is dressed,” one of the women told her companion, nodding with her chin toward a young woman walking out of a nearby store. “She’s just asking for trouble.”
She was indicating a female who looked to be in her late teens, wearing a pair of shorts and a tank top, her feet clad in ankle-length boots. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about it in the context of how kids dress for summer.
I could not help wondering what kind of “trouble” the teen was purportedly seeking, although I was pretty certain that the woman who made the declaration was not concerned that she would get blisters on her feet. What I got from the conversation was the suggestion that the girl was asking for inappropriate or even dangerous attention from males.
I’ve heard variations of this conversation a million times -- even had them on occasion with my own daughters as I encourage them to dress somewhat conservatively. I want them to make a favorable impression and I’ll admit I enjoy the good-mom ripples when they do.
While there are lots of reasons I care about how my girls dress, I’m not willing to let anyone use their clothing choices as an excuse to justify someone else’s appalling -- and criminal -- behavior. “She asked for it” is a harmful lie that hurts men and women alike.
Some people believe that a woman can be responsible for a sexual assault because of the way she was dressed when she was attacked. It’s not true. It’s as illogical as blaming a piece of jewelry for being stolen. “If it wasn’t so pretty ….” Who’s going to blame a mugging victim because he had a wallet?
It attempts to justify that which has no possible justification.
The view that how one dresses leads to victimization is a warped perspective that diminishes both genders. It turns women into objects and then says some males are too weak-willed to resist, while ignoring the depravity of their actions.
It also ignores the fact that rape or any form of assault is not some case of affection gone awry. It is an attack that’s about hatred and power and violence and a bunch of other things. It is a crime that cannot ever be excused and certainly not because of what the victim was wearing. The full weight of blame belongs squarely on the perpetrator.
All of it.
Parents, police, teachers, the courts, strangers in a mall who are prospective jurors (officially or self-appointed) -- all have a role in making it clear there is never an excuse to attack someone else and that choices one makes about how to treat others lead directly to consequences. Assault someone, physically or sexually, and there must be a hefty penalty.
My friends and I have had so many conversations about this. Males and females alike must know they are responsible for their bodies and their actions -- that they have an unassailable right to decide whether someone else can touch them or not. They have a right to be safe. And they have an absolute duty to respect those rights in others.
It is offensive to suggest that a guy simply can’t control himself when confronted with a girl who shows skin or that her clothing choice diminishes an assault. That kind of misguided notion gets in the way of dealing with the real issues of sexual and other forms of violence.
There are good reasons to teach daughters to be modest. That’s not a good one.
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